NXT is back bay-bay!
This was easily the best show NXT has put on in over a year and is definitely up there with some of the all-time great Takeover shows. Everyone brought their A-game over the past couple of nights, which feels like the start of a new era for NXT. Both in a metaphorical sense with the rejuvenated roster and quality shows and in a literal sense with new champions crowned across the board.
I’ve got nothing else to say, so let the gushing commence!
12 – Killian Dain & Drake Maverick def. Breezango
There was nothing wrong with this match, it just doesn’t stand out on an incredible card like this.
Dain & Maverick have really entertaining chemistry. I enjoy the fact that Dain just gets tired of Maverick’s shit sometimes and does things like powerbomb him onto the opponents. It’s a shame Breezango didn’t get to make much of their tag title reign, but I think they’re great for spots like this when we just want to see a good match and some friendly faces.
There’s no way Dain & Maverick are winning the tag titles, but I can’t wait to see them try.
11 – Zoey Stark def. Toni Storm
This was in no way a bad match, it’s just this is such a stacked show, even a really good match like this isn’t going to get very high up the list.
It’s clear that the people behind the scenes at NXT are really high on Zoey Stark, and this win will no doubt do wonders for her. I’m a little sad that Toni Storm has had to eat so many losses as of late, but I don’t mind that much since this is just helping an already stacked division get another prominent star. Not much more to say about this one; it was a good match with a nice pace and a surprising but satisfying conclusion. Thumbs up.
10 – Johnny Gargano(c) def. Bronson Reed
(North American Championship)
Takeover lists are always difficult to write because I have to stress that even though I’ve ranked this as the “worst” match on the main show, it was still really good. However, I’ve got to rank something at the bottom, even if I like it.
To me, what made this match fall to the bottom of the pile was that it just lacked that something special I expect from Takeover matches. Functionally, there was nothing wrong with it. I admit, I’m not as big on Bronson Reed as most other people seem to be, but this match still had plenty of upside. A good flow, an enjoyable back-and-forth style that let both men look great in their own ways.
However, when you look at the matches I’ve ranked above this one, there’s just something about them that ‘clicks’ more to me. It elevates them to be something worthy of a show like this, where NXT showcases the best of what they have to offer. I enjoyed this match. I just enjoyed the rest a lot more.
9 – Bronson Reed def. Leon Ruff, Isaiah “Swerve” Scott, Cameron Grimes, Dexter Lumis & LA Knight
(Winner gets a North American Championship match on Night 2)
There was a lot about this match that I really didn’t see coming.
For one thing, it wasn’t the style of gauntlet match I thought it was going to be. However, I’d argue it was better. This way kept it to a more manageable time for the show and gave us much more interesting action when the ring filled up with guys, rather than being left with a bunch of slightly too short one on one matches.
The different phases this match moved through kept the action solid throughout. The dynamic between Ruff & Scott early on felt like the kind of match I want to see a lot more of down the line, and as people kept getting added, chaos reigned, and things got fun. Lumis didn’t have nearly as prominent a role as I would’ve thought. However, it looks like his next major feud is ready to go as LA Knight, despite getting the short end of the stick here, got over as much as he needed to on this show.
This left us with a final three of Grimes, Scott & Reed, which was way better than I thought it would’ve been. They generally avoided any man powdering out, keeping all three of them in the action for the entire time until Grimes was eliminated. Once Reed won, I began to doubt my statement that Gargano would lose the title on night 2, but I still think him winning this match was great for someone who I thought wouldn’t get a shot until later in the year.
8 – Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart(c) def. The Way
(NXT Women’s Tag Team Championships)
These women’s tag titles are essentially going to be used as a mid-card title for NXT’s women’s division, and I am totally down for that if matches like this are the result.
This one was a very gradual builder, but that made the heights it reached toward the end feel earned. The bulk of the match is the solid tag action that you’d expect from any match like this. The Way did a good job with the divide-and-conquer style of tag work, and the hot tag felt worth the relative slowness that proceeded them.
As always in tag matches, the best stuff came towards the end when things broke down, and people were jumping in from all over the place. It definitely felt like the women involved just let loose and did whatever they felt like in this last section, and it made for a lot of great moments. I’m glad the champs retained and that it was such a solid match because it definitely gives the feeling that NXT will be treating these titles a lot better than Raw & Smackdown have done.
7 – Pete Dunne def. Kushida
I’ll be frank, picking Kushida here was a bloody stupid pick. In hindsight, of course, Pete Dunne was going to win.
My stupidity aside, I really enjoyed this match. I think it would’ve been better with a more meaningful story, but there’s no denying the incredible technical prowess both men had on display. Kushida keeps impressing with his matches despite the fact that he keeps losing, and it’s these kinds of performances that’ll keep him bubbling away until he can finally start winning again.
Dunne, meanwhile, met Kushida’s quick offence with a range of counters, the likes of which you’ve never seen. Dunne worked to turn everything Kushida did against him, and as balanced as the match was in places, it definitely felt like Kushida never really stood a chance of winning. Dunne was able to decelerate and accelerate the match at his whim and had an answer for just about everything Kushida could throw his way.
I don’t know what they’re going to do with Dunne next, but I hope it’s something meaningful because matches like this make it so clear he’ll be able to run with whatever he’s given.
6 – Karrion Kross(c) def. Finn Balor
Is this good enough for you? People who hate Karrion Kross for reasons I still don’t understand.
I’d say this is the point in the list where the matches reach that higher tier of quality that we always hope to get out of Takeovers. Both men played their roles in this match to perfection. Balor’s strategy of getting in Kross’ head early on was something we haven’t seen in quite that way for a long time, and I loved it. The way Balor painted the cross over his heart and then laughed in Kross’ face every time he’d get chucked across the ring was so good.
The action wasn’t the main attraction of this match because the storytelling carried it better than the action ever could. Balor looked so clever with the game plan he came in with, and for the first section of the match, he actually looked quite dominant over Kross. This time, Kross’s presentation has been different from the indestructible monster we saw last year, and I prefer it this way. Monsters should look beatable but still manage to win anyway.
When Kross took over and put the beatdown on Balor, things got more intense, and the dynamic evened out a lot more. The part of the storytelling I love most is how drastically Balor changed his style once he broke free of Kross’ beatdown. Gone was the slow, deliberate technician, and in its place was a quick and deadly striker, and that looked to end the match as quick as possible. The final portion of the match was far more back-and-forth, and it brought everything together nicely.
Kross winning was absolutely the best choice. Balor’s title reign has been fantastic – better than his first – but it’s Kross’ time. It’s been a long time since we had a true monster at the top of NXT, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the belt.
5 – Raquel Gonzalez def. Io Shirai(c)
(NXT Women’s Championship)
Honestly, when so many of these matches are so good, it becomes difficult to find different ways to talk about how good they are.
This match was a very clear clash of styles that they executed to a fantastic degree. Gonzalez’s ability in singles matches is understated, and I think that’s because her style is more muted than what we’re used to from the women’s division. I don’t mean that as an insult, to be clear, her movements are affectionately fluid, and she understands exactly how to work against her flashier opponents. Her power game is something to be envied, and she manages to mix it in with just enough fast-paced strikes and technical manoeuvres that she comes across as an extremely well-rounded performer.
This match wasn’t all about Gonzalez, though, as Io made sure that no one could forget her. She certainly had the most memorable moments of the match, with a Moonsault to the outside followed by a brilliant looking dive off of the skull (Speaking of, the set for this show looked really great). She understood exactly the kind of wrestler she was up against and adjusted her style to include a lot more of the muted but excellent technical stylings that Gonzalez is good at, and of course, got thrown around like a sack of potatoes at every opportunity.
This was a worthy send-off for Io Shirai’s fantastic title reign and crowned a new champion in spectacular fashion. Long may she reign.
4 – Santos Escobar(c) def. Jordan Devlin(c)
(Undisputed Cruiserweight Championship)
I was unsure how these two would mesh their styles. As it turns out, the answer was bloody brilliantly.
I loved how they waited to get the ladders involved in the match. We got a solid 5 minutes of the match before either of them picked up a ladder for the first time. It gave the match a great sense of rising tension. It served the story as well, both men want to prove they’re worthy of heading up the Cruiserweight division, so they started out with some classic cruiserweight action.
Things kept building nicely once the ladders got involved. They still moved very quickly and incorporated the ladders into their offence in fun ways. It may not have been anything we haven’t seen in ladder matches before, but it didn’t need to be. The various leaps & falls off of ladders were the kind of spectacle we couldn’t see anywhere else on this show, and it helped this match stand out amongst an incredible lineup of matches.
As the match reached its climax, I bought into a lot of the false finishes. Which was helped by the fact that I really had no idea who was going to win. Ultimately, while I wanted Devlin to win, Escobar is probably the better choice. He’s been on a roll like few others since winning the interim title, and hopefully, Devlin can set his sights on a certain champion over in the UK…
3 – MSK def. Grizzled Young Veterans & Legada Del Fantasma
(NXT Tag Team Championships)
Chaos, that’s what this match was. Pure, non-stop chaos. What more could you possibly want?
It’s no secret that, in general, I like my wrestling fast and crazy, so this match was always going to tick all of my boxes. Having three amazing teams like these in the ring was a recipe for success from the word go, and they still managed to exceed my expectations. Every person in all three teams seemed to be in the perfect place at the perfect time to hit the perfect move. There was barely a moment to catch your breath in this one with how well it cycled between the active participants, and no one was underrepresented.
It felt like the bulk of the story was between MSK & GYV, with Legada Del Fantasma playing spoiler to that dynamic, getting involved when both of those teams got too mixed up with each other. It was a really interesting dynamic. It only got touched on in a few moments, but it added just that little extra bit of emotional investment I needed to become totally absorbed in the match. I really bought into a lot of the false finishes here, and with each one, I fell in love with the match more. It was the kind of match that built to what I thought was the climax and then managed to build even further.
MSK isn’t who I would’ve gone with to win, purely because there aren’t many people for them to face right now. However, it is absolutely deserved. They are clearly a fantastic tag team destined for great things in NXT. Maybe they’ll hot-potato the titles once or twice, but I have no complaints about them winning the titles.
2 – WALTER(c) def. Tommaso Ciampa
(United Kingdom Championship)
WALTER really is just one of the best wrestlers in the world. His style is so unique, but it’s almost intangibly great. He can work hard, fast, monstrous or technical depending on what the situation calls for, and he’s a brilliant judge of which style is needed for what opponent.
In my predictions, I said this match would have a bit of all WALTER’s best title defences so far, and I think I was pretty spot-on with that statement. The primary baseline of the match was the technical prowess of both men. When the two of them got tussling in that technical style, it was a thing of beauty. There was a bunch of brutality in there too. WALTER’s chops could win a title independently, but Ciampa wasn’t afraid to chop back just as hard. The striking segments felt like they carried this match a lot better than it should’ve been able to, and it added that brutal feel we were hoping for from this match.
What’s brilliant thought was how it pulled in the underdog vs monster dynamic. The truth is, I don’t think WALTER actually ever looked that dominant over Ciampa in the match, and yet Ciampa’s performance still made him feel like the incredible underdog you just had to root for. As soon as the weakness in WALTER’s right hand opened up, Ciampa desperately tried to do all he could with it.
It was a mechanically flawless match with an emotionally resonant story that filled the match at every opportunity. I will honestly be shocked if this match isn’t in my top 3 when I come to make my match of the year list this year.
At the end of night 1, I really thought nothing could top this match, but man… there was something on the horizon I couldn’t have seen coming.
1 – Kyle O’Reilly def. Adam Cole
What an epic match.
To address some of the criticisms I’ve seen. Yes, it was a bit long. It probably could’ve been 30 minutes instead of 40 and not missed out on much. However, it really didn’t seem 40 minutes long to me when I was watching it. It gripped me so completely that how long it was taking didn’t even enter my mind until it was over. The other major one I saw was too many kickouts, which I disagree with, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
As expected from a 40-minute match, it was a slow builder but a gripping slow builder. Things started out thick and fast, as you’d expect, with a feud as intense as this one, but the pace slowed very soon in, and the brutality slowly ramped up from there. The two men managed to balance the hard-hitting action with an intense set of technical wrestling moves for a lot of it, which kept the action ticking over and kept me interested for when the bigger spots started coming.
The segment centred around the chain, I thought, was particularly good without how they kept bringing it back into the match in unexpected ways. It’s that kind of style that wins me over with weapons matches, where the weapons are used as exclamation points on the action, no the sole focal point on it.
Where this match went from “bloody great” to “match of the year” was in the back half, though, when things were a lot slower, but every move became really meaningful. The various Last Shot attempts & dodges, the fall through the stage, it all elevated the match into that “epic” style few matches can reach. The kickouts, though, the kickouts. People said there were too many, I disagree. The thing is, if you look at the match, Cole only really kicked out of one big move towards the end – the Last Shot from O’Reilly. O’Reilly, meanwhile, kicked out of loads, and that is precisely the point of the story. O’Reilly keeps coming back despite being utterly dead on his feet. One of the last kickouts, where O’Reilly barely gets his shoulder a few inches off the ground, was so powerful to that end.
O’Reilly had to win this to become a star in NXT, which is exactly what he’s done. That long shot of him walking away from the fight, utterly battered, is the look of a hero. I don’t know where or when, but he’s our next NXT Champion, and no one can deny him.
And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you thought of the show, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure you come back here this time tomorrow for my Wrestlemania predictions!